AUSTIN — Ask just about anyone where the computer industry and digital culture began, and they’ll probably tell you Northern California or maybe Seattle. They wouldn’t be wrong — after all, those are the homes of Microsoft and Apple.
But if they said Texas, they wouldn’t be wrong either.
With such companies as Texas Instruments, Dell, and Compaq, the so-called Silicon Prairie has certainly contributed to the growth of the broader cyberculture. All of that is explored in the context of cable-TV fiction in a new AMC series, Halt and Catch Fire, which was premiered Saturday at South by Southwest. It begins its run in June.
Set in North Texas, it revolves around a talented if disillusioned computer engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy, Argo) who is dragooned by his new boss Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace, Pushing Daisies, The Hobbit movies) into reverse engineering an IBM PC and launching themselves into the go-go, cutthroat early days of the computer business. Judging from the pilot as well as such other AMC dramas as Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, there will be personal problems and personality disorders aplenty — not to mention lots of shout-outs to the DFW of nearly 40 years ago.
It helps that co-creator Christopher Cantwell and McNairy both grew up in Richardson and Cantwell says the show was partially inspired by his dad who worked in the industry in Dallas at the time. But Halt and Catch Fire — whose title refers to an early code that supposedly would send a computer into overdrive and cause it to freeze and then burst into flame — seems to have more going for it than simple geographic resonance for North Texans (though it was actually shot in Atlanta).
The pilot is definitely intriguing, helped along by solid writing and a good cast, including a cantankerous Toby Huss ( 42, Enough Said) as the president of the company where Clark and MacMillan get their bright idea. Looking forward to seeing where this one goes.